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Aiken Fall Steeplechase attracts leading rider, other jump racing stars

Aiken Fall Steeplechase 1

Mr. Universo, ridden by Paddy Young, leads after clearing the last jump during the Budweiser Holiday Cup at a past Aiken Fall Steeplechase at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation's Bruce's Field. Also shown is Harmony Bay with jockey Michael Mitchell aboard. This year's Fall Steeplechase will be held at the Aiken Steeplechase Association's new venue at 2020 Richland Ave. E.

The Aiken Fall Steeplechase on Saturday has attracted some of the biggest stars on the National Steeplechase Association’s racing circuit.

They include Parker Hendriks, who is the leader in the jockey standings this year for money won ($619,550) and victories (21).

Horses from the stables of Keri Brion, the top trainer based on money won ($926,750) and Leslie Young, who is the trainer with the most victories (30), also are scheduled to compete.

In addition, Irvin Naylor, the leading owner based on money won ($410,500), has a horse, Flying Scotsman, entered in the $30,000 Holiday Cup, sponsored by A is for Advertising.

Gates will open at 9 a.m. at the Aiken Steeplechase Association’s new venue at 2020 Richland Ave. E.

There will be five races – four over jumps and one on the flat.

The post time for the first race will be 1 p.m.

“Overall, we are delighted with the entries,” said Bill Gallo, director of racing for the National Steeplechase Association. “These are good, solid fields, especially for late in the season when things are winding down.

“Based on photos and the reports from a couple of inspectors that we had go down (to Aiken), the racecourse is in premier shape," he added, "so that’s encouraging and kind of explains why a lot of horses are participating.”

Scheduled to be contested at 2 1/8 miles over hurdles, the Holiday Cup will offer the afternoon’s richest purse.

The eight horses in the field are 3 years of age and older and have never won before over jumps.

In Gallo’s opinion, the favorite is 8-year-old Cross Border, who has earned $1,183,354 during his career and only recently began making the transition from flat racing to steeplechasing.

“He’s primed and ready to go,” Gallo said.

Before starting to train as a jumper, Cross Border won the 1 3/8-mile Bowling Green Stakes on grass in 2020 and 2021 at Saratoga Race Course in New York.

In 2020, Cross Border finished second to Sadler’s Joy, but moved up to first after the Saratoga stewards disqualified Sadler’s Joy for interference.

Cross Border also has captured other stakes races and finished second and third in grade I events on turf.

In the $100,000 John Forbes Memorial Stakes during the Far Hills steeplechase race meeting Oct. 15 in New Jersey, Cross Border “was a solid third,” Gallo said.

Agitare won the two-mile contest on a yielding turf course, and Basso finished second.

Kirk Wycoff and his family’s Three Diamonds Farm own Cross Border, who is trained by Brion and will be ridden by Hendriks in the Holiday Cup.

Wycoff has three children, and one of them, Jordan Wycoff, is Three Diamonds’ managing partner.

Among the other horses entered in the Holiday Cup are Jordan Wycoff’s Hilliard and Jordan Wycoff and Frank Mullins’ Topic Changer.

Brion trains both Hilliard and Topic Changer.

Mullins, who is the president of the Aiken Steeplechase Association, is Jordan Wycoff’s father-in-law.

Also in the Holiday Cup’s field is Lumberjack, who is owned by Thomas Rice.

Rice is a Pennsylvania resident who lives in Aiken during the winter.

In March, during the Aiken Spring Steeplechase, Rice and Van Cushy’s Bee Major captured the $25,000 G.H. Bostwick, a 2 1/8-mile race over jumps.